Month: January 2016



                     “For we are saved by hope” (Romans 8:24)

      Many people suffer ongoing emotional pain due to lingering bad memories that sometimes reach back even into childhood. We are looking here at the teaching of Saint John of the Cross regarding the purification of memory. Saint John of the Cross, a Doctor of the Church, is the Church’s greatest mystical theologian. Although he lived in the sixteenth century, this Saint is well known for his acute psychological insights into the human condition.
     Saint John of the Cross tells us that harmful memories are gradually purified and healed by the theological virtue of hope (a virtue infused into our soul at baptism). It is to be kept in mind that the exercise of the God-directed theological virtues of faith, hope and love constitutes the highest expression of human mental activity because these three supernatural virtues focus our attention on the source of all goodness and healing: God. It is thus that the exercise of the theological virtue of hope will be of profound value in healing harmful memories that depreciate our lives, and can even cause severe emotional suffering.
    Saint John of the Cross’ approach to the healing of memory involves the decision to let go of and forget the painful memory. Clearly by now you’ve replayed that harmful memory a thousand times in your head. Assuming the memory has not been repressed in a harmful manner, but rather that there has been time to bring the memory to the fore through productive therapy and dialogue, there comes a time then when we should allow the theological virtue of hope to gradually heal and replace (or greatly diminish) the memory. Consider a broken bone: there is a time for casting and physical therapy, but hopefully the bone will heal and the memory of the painful fracture will diminish. Saint John of the Cross suggests that the balm of grace-filled hope will accomplish this healing for your traumatic memory. As one Carmelite writer states: The psychotherapist, by relieving disturbing emotions attached to memories of earlier experiences, prepares the person indirectly to advance in prayer….” It is primarily through prayer that we exercise the virtue of hope in relation to the healing of memory.

     This road to the “inner reformation” of memory begins with the stark realization that the constant re-living of painful memories is an obstacle to hope and happiness. Saint John of the Cross states that the application of the virtue of hope “liberates us from a lot of sorrow, affliction and sadness” which he calls an “exceptional blessing” (AMC, III, 4). It is useful to consider, in this regard, that in modern cognitive psychology, known as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the identification and elimination of defective thinking patterns is considered essentially curative (see Muto, p.130).

     A great scholar of Saint John of the Cross impresses upon us the following considerations regarding memory and hope:

“Proneness to forget God causes our memory to be as if immersed in time, whose relation to eternity, to the benefits and promises of God, it no longer sees. This defect inclines our memory to see all things horizontally on the line of time that flees, of which the present alone is real, between the past that is gone and the future that is not yet. Forgetfulness of God prevents us from seeing that the present moment is also on a vertical line which attaches it to the single instant of immobile eternity, and that there is a divine manner of living the present moment in order that by merit it may enter into eternity. Whereas forgetfulness of God leaves us in this banal and horizontal view of things on the line of time which passes, the contemplation of God is like a vertical view of things which pass and of their bond with God who does not pass. To be immersed in time, is to forget the value of time, that is to say, its relation to eternity. By what virtue must this great defect of forgetfulness of God be cured? St. John of the Cross (18) answers that the memory which forgets God must be healed by the hope of eternal beatitude….” (Father Garrigou-LaGrange, The Three Ages of the Interior Life)

Our learning to hope in God is what purifies and heals bad memories. The more we are able to focus our prayerful attention on God in hope, the more we will gradually diminish the painful memories which try to tyrannize our minds. The more we fill the mind with God in a purer form of prayer – devoid of memories and images – the more we advance the purification of the memory. Saint John of the Cross gives us this advice:

“What we have to do, then, in order to live in the simple and perfect hope of God, whenever these forms, knowledge, and distinct images occur [including harmful memories], is not to fix our minds upon them but to turn immediately to God, emptying the memory of all such matters, in loving affection, without regarding or considering them more than suffices to enable us to understand and perform our obligations, if they have any reference thereto.”
(The Ascent of Mount Carmel, Bk. III, chap. 14)

Father Garrigou-LaGrange adds:

“Here we have truly the active purification of the memory which is too preoccupied with useless or dangerous memories. We should put this teaching into practice that our memory may no longer be, so to speak, immersed in ephemeral things, that it may no longer see them only on the horizontal line of fleeting time, but on the vertical line which attaches them to the single instant of immobile eternity.Thus, little by little the soul rises often to the thought of God.”


1. You see that you are being plagued by a bad memory which is causing you emotional turmoil and depreciative living.

2. You are going to let go of this memory, and its hold on you, by placing yourself directly in the infallible presence of Jesus Christ in Eucharistic Adoration for one hour (this adoration is an eminent use of the theological virtues of faith, hope and love).

Jesus im Brotsakrament, über Ihm, der Überlieferung nach, ein Stück seines Kreuzes im Reliquiar.

3. It may be beneficial at the beginning of adoration to let your emotions run free for a few minutes through conversation with Jesus.

4. For the remainder of adoration you are going to place yourself in the presence of Jesus and simply let Him heal you. Thus, you will intentionally vacate your mind of the harmful memory and simply look lovingly in complete hope at Jesus. You are simply going to fix your mind and attention on Jesus, letting Him be present to you, sort of as if you were on the beach, forgetting yourself and everything else in the brilliant rays of the sun. You are simply going to let the healing rays of Jesus’ love fall gently upon you. At the end of adoration it would be appropriate to make a prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus for the graces received. 

5. Gradually, over time, as Eucharistic adoration becomes part of your life, Jesus will heal the harmful memory.

       “I abandoned and forgot myself/ Laying my face on my Beloved”    (Saint John of the Cross)

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

P.S. Nothing in this theological note is meant to be a substitute for good and necessary medical and professional care.

References: I am relying especially on Chapter 7 of Dr. Susan Muto’s book, John of the Cross for Today: The Ascent (Ave Maria Press), which is recommended for further detail regarding this topic of the purification of memory. Saint John of the Cross discusses in detail purification of memory in Book Three, Chapters 1 to 15 of The Ascent of Mt. Carmel (AMC). Dr. Ralph Martin has a CD on  Purification of the Memory. Keep in mind that St. John of  the Cross is talking about a complete purification – a complete overhaul – of memory, whereas in this note I have just addressed the specific area of harmful memories resulting from traumatic experiences. On the theological virtue of hope, see the Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 1817 – 1821. The closer we get to God, the more we walk by faith, hope and love. “How good it is,” says Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel, “to stand before a crucifix, or on our knees before the Blessed Sacrament, and simply to be in his presence!”(#264).

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That Mary remained a virgin her entire life is a De Fide (required of the
faithful) doctrine of the Catholic Church.  See Documents of Vatican II
(LG57), Catechism of the Catholic Church, 499, The Mother of the
Redeemer, 39 (Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul Il, 1987), and Ludwig
Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.
Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom is a radical feature of Christianity, and finds its biblical mandate at Matthew 19:12. Jesus, in fact, “is described” and “sees his own self identity” as that of the “celibate bridegroom” (article by Janet Smith; see also John 3:29 and Matthew 9:15). Paul presents celibacy as a highly favored state of life for believers saying, “I wish that all were as myself am [celibate].  But each has his own special gift from God….” (1 Cor. 7:7). Paul confirms the goodness of marriage at 1 Cor. 7:38 saying, “He who marries does well,” but then adds that “he who refrains from marriage will do better.” Mary embraced both marriage and celibacy, thus exemplifying in a unique way the sublime dignity of both vocations.
Mary is properly to be considered the spouse of the Holy Spirit since the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” her and was the formal cause of her virginal conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35). This is why her offspring, Jesus, “will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35), and this is also why Mary is properly called the Mother of God according to the decree of The Council of Ephesus in 431. Mary’s unique and “supernatural maternity” through the power of the Holy Spirit necessarily precludes her from intimate union with a man. Mary is a virgin because of her “undivided gift of herself” to God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 506).
The relevant verse is Luke 1:34: “How shall this be, seeing I do not know man.” These words of Mary to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation show that Mary did not intend to have conjugal relations with a man; otherwise, Mary surely would have known that conjugal relations with Joseph, her husband, could cause a pregnancy. Catholic theologian Stefano Manelli explains Mary’s strange response to the angel this way:
“Confronted by this [the angel Gabriel’s] wondrous announcement, however, the virgin finds herself embarrassed; not because of the sublime greatness of the majesty announced to her, but rather for the way in which such a maternity might be realized. The embarrassment would seem inexplicable because, on any reasonable grounds, she is precisely a woman in ideal conditions to conceive a son. She is the young spouse of Joseph – What young spouse would not be inclined to desire a beautiful son? It is obvious, therefore, and must be acknowledged that Mary’s difficulty stems from a precise commitment — vow or promise — “not to know man,” that is, to be and remain a virgin.  St. Augustine rightly says, that ‘Mary certainly would not have spoken those words If she had not vowed her virginity to Got” In fact, only by admitting Mary’s virginal consecration to God, can it be understood why she found herself facing an unsolvable dilemma: How to reconcile her virginal offering to God with the request of maternity on the part of God? How could she become a mother without betraying a promise of virginal consecration to God.”
(Stefano Manelli, All Generations Shall Call Me Blessed, pages 137-140)

Robert Payesko comments:

“It is often alleged too that such verses as Mark 6:3, “His brethren James and Joseph, and Judas and Simon,” and Matthew 13:55- 56, “his brethren James and Joseph, and Simon and Judas,” are evidence that Jesus had brothers and sisters. What is forgotten is that the Jewish expression for brothers and sisters applies to cousins and even to people in the same tribe. Although Lot was the son of Jjraharn’s brother Aran, he is described as Abraham’s “brother” (Genesis 14:14). Similarly, Jacob is referred to as the “brother” of his uncle Laban (Genesis 29:15). Similar examples are found throughout Scripture.  In any case, in Matthew 27:56, Mark 14:40 and John 19:25, James and Joseph are described as the sons of Mary, the wife of Cleophas— thus Scripture tells us that the “brethren” James and Joseph in Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3 are not blood brothers of Jesus. If James, the bishop of Jerusalem, was truly a son of Mary it would be impossible for the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary to be affirmed in the early Church Nevertheless, such ancient writers as IrenaeusPolycarp and Ignatius all taught the doctrine as an article of faith.”
(Robert Payesko. The Truth about Mary, page 2-198).

 Section 500 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, “brothers of Jesus,” are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls “the other Mary.” They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.”
The relevant verse is sometimes translated, “he [Joseph] had no relations with her [Mary] until she bore a son, whom he named Jesus.” The New American Bible translates the verse as follows: “He had no relations with her at anytime before she bore a son, whom he named Jesus,” This verse demonstrates that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary before Jesus’ birth, thus establishing the doctrine of Jesus’ virginal birth, The verse does not mean that Joseph had sexual relations with Mary after Jesus was born.

Dr. Scott Hahn comments:

“The Greek hoes [until] does not imply that Joseph and Mary had marital relations following Jesus’ birth. This conjunction is often used (translated ‘”to” or “till”) to indicate a select period of time, without implying change in the future (2 Sam 6:23 [LXX]; Jn 9:18; 1 Tim 413). Hers Matthew emphasizes only that Joseph had no involvement in Mary’s pregnancy before Jesus’ birth.”
(Scott HahnIgnatius Catholic Study Bible, Gospel of Matthew, page 18).

J. Laurericeau explains:

The semitic locution “until” makes no judgment about the future.
Thus, “Michal was childless until the clay of her death” (2 Sm 6:23)
[does not’t imply Michal became a mother after her death.]”
(Dictionary of Mary, page 485)
Mary is never called the mother of anyone else except Jesus in the New Testament. The Gospels refer only to Jesus as Mary’s son (the verses where Jesus is referred to as Mary’s son include John 2:1, John 19:25, and Acts 1:14). Further, as Dr. Scott Hahn points out, it is unlikely that Jesus would have entrusted Mary to the Apostle John’s care at his crucifixion if Mary had other natural sons to care for her (John 19:26-27).

J. Laurencaau explains:

Luke says: “Mary gave birth to her firstborn son” (2:7). This makes allusion to the legal prescriptions concerning the first male child of a family, even if there were no other children.
(Dictionary of Mary, page 485)

 Dr. Scott Hahn comments:

[Luke 2:7 is] a legal term linked with a son’s social standing and rights of inheritance.  It does not imply that Mary had other children after Jesus, only that she had none before him.
(Scott HahnIgnatius Catholic Study Bible, Gospel of Luke, page 22)
The Protoevangelium of James, written around A.D. 120, had as one of its principal aims to prove the perpetual virginity of Mary.  Origin (died 254) strongly defended Mary’s perpetual virginity but Tertullian (died 230), who was excommunicated, denied it.  Other early Church fathers affirming Mary’s perpetual virginity include Athanasius, Epiphanius, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine and Cyril of Alexandria.  Reference: Mary: Ever Virgin (This Rock: February, 2002) and Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.
Mary referred to as “perpetual virgin” by the Fifth General Council at Constantinople in 553.  The first doctrinal formulation of this belief takes place at the Lateran Synod of 649 under Pope Martin I where Mary is called “blessed ever-virginal and Immaculate Mary.”  Reference: Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Raphael, Granduca Madonna, 1505, Public Domain, U.S.A. (per Wikipedia).
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